Alice puts the finishing touches on her resume. She will email it along with a cover letter to apply for a position for an early childhood educator. She hits the “send” icon, shuts down the computer and stands to stretch. Her body feels awkward and stiff. Suddenly a wave of regret floats across her mind. She flips open the lap top, reads the email and thinks, “ I should have been more enthusiastic!" Palms sweating, her heart races. She feels at a distance from the world. Alice is creative, bright and compassionate yet she feels lethargic, boring and ignorant.
“I have ADD,” “ I was told I’m borderline,” “My diagnosis is depression.” People may come to therapy with a diagnosis from a physician, psychiatrist, a previous therapist or self-diagnosis through their own research. When it comes to your state of mind, it may be more helpful to understand what factors are contributing to how you feel, the decisions you make, the ways in which you live your life.
By the time we are toddlers we have developed strategies that help us navigate relationships. We learn from interactions with our caregivers that behavior brings forth different responses. A baby cries out, communicating distress: “I’m hungry, my diaper needs changing, I need to be held” - mom responds with reassuring tones: “It’s OK, I’m here, now let’s see what you need.” Mom feels warm and touched as her soothing responses help the child relax. They feel a secure attachment. Both feel joy and comfort in the pleasure of being known for what they experience.
A mother and her young adolescent son have had struggles throughout the day. She feels sad and unresolved as she experiences their mutual avoidance. She asks him if they can discuss how they have managed some of the conflict. He is squirmy and her tension rises. He peers at her through squinting eyes. She tries several approaches at convincing him that “communication is important.” He stares through her and she realizes that there is something working against them.
The concept of a “secure base”, introduced by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1960’s, reflects the empathic and interested responses of caregivers to a child's attachment needs. With security as a foundation exploration of the environment follows. "Safe haven" (John Bowlby) is a term which describes the consistent acknowledgent and soothing a child can return to when she feels tension. For example, a toddler expresses excitement discovering that she can make a ball roll.
Walking across the tidal flats toward our home in Alaska presents challenges. I must maintain my balance over rock as I wade through the current of a creek which looks more like a river, swollen at 30 feet wide, a foot deep and rising. Climbing the cliff up to the woods above our house, I notice how my heart pounds and quads burn.